Israeli Army to Allow Men to Serve in Position Previously Restricted to Women

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Combat soldiers around the Gaza border during the recent round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, three months ago.
Combat soldiers around the Gaza border during the recent round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, three months ago. Credit: Ilan Assayag
Or Kashti

The Israeli military has announced that starting in September it will allow men to serve as teachers in tracks similar to female teacher-soldiers.

The change in policy was announced in response to a lawsuit filed at the High Court of Justice by soldier Niv Myrtenbaum of Haifa, whose application to serve as a teacher-soldier was turned down by the army as “not relevant” due to his gender. After suing, last month he was called in for assignment with other men but was “found unsuitable for the job,” the army said.

“I’m glad the IDF realized that this is discrimination that hurts boys just because of their gender,” Myrtenbaum said.

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Haaretz reported in early June on Myrtenbaum’s efforts to be accepted by the IDF in one of its teacher-soldier tracks, which include teaching mathematics in high schools in Israel’s periphery, helping the children of new immigrants learn Hebrew, and working in community centers and in youth movements with young people at risk. Myrtenbaum has previously worked with children and teens in various institutional frameworks in recent years.

Although the IDF website said the assignments are open to both sexes, males who are not deemed exceptional athletes aren’t accepted for the posts. As Myrtenbaum’s draft date approached and he still hadn't received a response to his request, the Israel Women’s Network and Tmura – The Israeli Antidiscrimination Legal Center filed a suit in his name seeking, among other things, a ruling that restricting the jobs to women is discriminatory.

Niv Myrtenbaum.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

In response to queries by Haaretz, the IDF Spokesperson’s office gave different answers, finally saying that the approximately 120 men serving in various teacher-soldier units were all granted a special statues for athletes (so-called exceptional athletes) and are helping school sports instructors. In the tracks that Myrtenbaum applied for, all of the approximately 420 soldiers are women.

About two months after Myrtenbaum’s first attempt to apply and following the High Court appeal, the army said that due to “various considerations involved in personnel planning, in practice, men are not assigned to several job categories” but that it had been decided to open the job of teacher-soldier also to those [men] who have not been designated exceptional athletes.

The army also said that during the last two years it had begun to integrate men into assignments they had previously been excluded from, but that “the time it has taken to deal with this issue has taken longer than planned.” Nevertheless, the army insisted that “there isn’t any policy that prevents assigning male soldiers to certain jobs due to their gender.”

Last week, the IDF asked that the suit be dismissed. It told the court that about 40 males (not deemed exceptional athletes) had been considered for the post of teacher-soldier, of whom 15 were accepted and would start in September. “IDF officials are continuing to act in regard to additional jobs (in which) the recruitment of male soldiers has not yet started,” it wrote, without providing further details.

“There is great educational value to the job of teacher-soldier, and both men and women should have the right to serve as one. I am glad I paved the way for this to happen,” Myrtenbaum said.

Gili Zinger, an attorney with the Israel Women’s Network who filed the suit together with Prof. Yifat Bitton of Tmura, said: “The time has come that all jobs in the IDF be open equally to both sexes and that service in them be determined by the talents and abilities, and not by their gender. That is true concerning jobs regarded as ‘women’s’ such as teaching and welfare no less than for the other side, regarding combat roles that are regarded as men’s.’”

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